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The Extra Pass: Talking Blazers, Clippers, coaching with Bill and Luke Walton

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Portland Trail Blazers fans are not fair weathered. They have stuck with the franchise through some dark times. Now they are being rewarded — with LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard leading the way, Portland fans are getting to witness some of the best, most entertaining basketball Rip City has seen in more than a decade.

Consider Trail Blazer legend and Hall of Famer Bill Walton one of those happy fans.

The big red head is around the game again, having gotten past the back issues that literally had him on the floor for years, and through it all  his passion for the game never died — and it is still infectious.

As is his love for Portland and his plaid-pants wearing coach Dr. Jack Ramsey, who coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA title with Walton as the star.

“There’s nothing like pride,” Bill Walton told ProBasketballTalk. “I played my best basketball ever for the Portland Trail Blazers…

“So many memories, all the guys I’m still really close to. Whenever you’re part of something special, you always come back to the relationships, the personalities…

“(Coach Dr.) Jack Ramsey, he made me the best player that I ever was. His ability to take me to destinations and in directions I never even really thought were possible it was incredible. And what he did, his vision for putting the team together, we were incredibly lucky in that we had guys like Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins, Johnny Davis, Bob Gross.

“And we had the Blazer maniacs. Oh my gosh did they ever make it fun…”

The elder Walton and his son Luke have teamed up with Teleflora for their NBA “Send & Score” Sweepstakes — send Valentines day flowers and you and earn a chance to win a VIP trip to attend an NBA Playoff game, NBA gear and more.

Bill thinks there could be ample opportunities to attend Clippers playoff games this season — that’s another team he played for, both when they were in San Diego and when they first move to Los Angeles.

“It’s so fantastic,” Bill said of the Clippers run of success. “I’m just so thrilled for Ralph Lawler, Mr. Clipper, the voice of the Clippers. What a great friend, Ralph has taught me so much. It’s just been incredible to see what Blake Griffin and Doc Rivers, and Chris Paul… It’s great to see what’s happening with the Clippers because the fans are so deserving and have been waiting for so long.”

What do the Clippers need to get over the top in a brutal West?

“I think trading for Doc Rivers in the off-season was big because he’s a championship coach,” said Luke, who is now an assistant coach for the D-Fenders of the D-League plus is a studio analyst for the Lakers. “He knows what it takes, he will put the confidence in the players come playoff time. Just with another year of going through the playoffs like they did last year, I think they automatically get better off that. And I think Doc could have been that missing piece to take them over the top.”

“It’s all about culture,” Bill added. “There’s never been a great player, a great team, a great organization without a great leader. Doc Rivers has proven to be that championship leader to get the guys to sacrifice for the team, because you’re never going to get it done on the big scale. If you want to score and you want to be the champion and if you want to make it all happen, you have to get guys willing to sacrifice.”

Both of the Waltons played for some of the greatest coaches the game has ever seen — Bill played for six Hall of Fame coaches from John Wooden at UCLA through Ramsey and others, while Luke was with Lute Olsen at Arizona and Phil Jackson in the NBA.

Those experiences mean both think coaching is key to really winning in the NBA.

“I think it’s huge,” Luke said. “The NBA is full of the best players in the world, so what coach can get those guys to play hard, to play together, to play for each other, that’s what really makes a good coach a great coach. And I think Doc Rivers is one of those guys.”

“It’s all about the love that from a somebody who can make guys believe there is a bigger picture here,” Bill added.

He’s not a coach, but Bill’s cup is still overflowing with the love of the game. It’s just great to have him back around the game, talking hoops. And Portland.

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Pacers 89, Hawks 85: The first half of this was tight, but a lot of the Hawks’ success was fueled by the 14 Pacers turnovers before the break. After the break the Pacers locked down the Hawks — Atlanta shot 30 percent in the third — plus Indy the pace took care of the ball (five second half turnovers), and with that pulled away. David West had nine of this 22 in the third, and Paul George added 18. Mike Scott had 11 of his team-high 15 in the fourth, but it wasn’t near enough. By the way, Lance Stephenson took a nasty third quarter fall and did not return, however it does not appear to be serious. Which is good news.

Timberwolves 109, Lakers 99: So the return of Steve Nash to the lineup did not help the Lakers’ defense. Who knew? This is 15 consecutive games the Lakers have given up 100 or more and Minnesota put their foot on the gas early with 38 points in the first quarter, led by 14 from Kevin Martin (who had 31 for the game). Minny led by 25 in the second quarter and while a couple times in the fourth the Lakers got it to single digits this was never in doubt. Kevin Love had 31 points and 17 rebounds, Ricky Rubio dished out 17 assists. It was good to see Nash back on the court and he dished out nine assists plus hit three of six shots in 24 minutes. Steve Blake returned also and played 32 minutes, had zero points and ruptured an eardrum (but will continue traveling with the team).

Bulls 101, Suns 92: Chicago was able to do what Indiana wasn’t — grind down to the Suns and put their offense in quicksand. At least for a half, but it was enough. The Bulls played good transition defense, they guarded the arc well (the Suns were just 8-of-28 from three) and they scored efficiently enough to remove a lot of running opportunities for Phoenix. The Bulls did a lot of that damage in the first half, but when the Suns came out on a 13-4 run early in the second it felt like they could sprint past Chicago. They didn’t thanks to strong quarters from Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy, then D.J Augustin had 9 points off the bench in the fourth quarter as the Bulls answered every Suns run. Goran Dragic had 24 points to lead the Suns.

Bobcats 91, Warriors 75: Golden State’s offense hasn’t been as good as you’d expect this season and of late it’s been a mess — in their last five games the Warriors are shooting below 40 percent as a team. That reached a new low against a strong Bobcats defense Tuesday, with Golden State scoring just 75 points on 32 percent shooting. Stephen Curry was 1-of-7 from three, David Lee 3-of-13 overall. Al Jefferson was a beast inside with 30 points on the night to lead Charlotte.

Monty Williams is back coaching with Team USA, ready to get back on NBA sidelines

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18:  Draymond Green #14 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team drives against assistant coach Monty Williams of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.

Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.

Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.

“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.

Report: Warriors sign JaVale McGee to make-good training camp contract

JaVale McGee
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JaVale McGee is getting another shot in the NBA.

He played just 34 games off the bench for Dallas last season. He played 23 games the season before that due to injury.

But the Golden State Warriors are thin up front — Zaza Pachulia will get the bulk of the minutes at the five (when the Warriors use a traditional center), and there is the often-injured Anderson Varejao behind him. The Warriors could use another big. So they are giving McGee a look, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This is a low-risk move by the Warriors, and it’s worth the gamble. Vintage McGee, for all his Shaqtin’ a Fool flaws, is far more athletic and a better rim protector than any of the guys the Warriors now have at the five. If it doesn’t work out — and the odds are it will not — they cut him, if it does they pay him a minimum deal.

I hope he makes it, just because the league is more fun when McGee is in it.

Russell Westbrook laughs off question about Kevin Durant

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant #35 discuss play during the first half against the Los Angeles ClipperLos Angeles Kingsat Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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At some point, Russell Westbrook will sit down with members of the media and discuss Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder, how he felt about the move, and how it impacted him both personally and professionally.

But not right now. He remains silent.

This Vine making its way around, where Westbrook laughs — probably at the question, although read into that whatever you want — when asked about Durant sums up where we are.

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In the full Facebook clip, Westbrook walks away, too. It’s his right. He can talk about it on his schedule.